If you’re the hottest girl in school, the most powerful Mafia family, the toughest rooster in the pecking order, or, let’s say, the European Union’s largest economy, in the give and take of life, you’ll be doing a little more taking than giving, to say the least. This seems to be the case with Germany, which has the highest GDP in the E.U., and the rest of the Union. The issue of immigration into the country from the European Union’s poorest nations, Romania and Bulgaria, has the country divided. Chancellor Angela Merkel and a large segment of the German population want all of the good and none of the bad when it comes to their country’s relationship with the E.U.
When Romania and Bulgaria joined the E.U. in 2007, citizens were permitted to travel to other participatory nations without visas, but heavy restrictions were imposed upon immigrants coming from those countries by several E.U. nations: the UK, Austria, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Spain, France, Belgium, Malta and Germany. These restrictions expired on Jan. 1, 2014, which has caused a minor panic in these richer countries, especially Germany.
The rallying cry against immigration from Romania and Bulgaria has been concern over immigrants coming in solely to abuse Germany’s generous social welfare programs and, to a lesser extent, take native jobs. Chancellor Merkel has announced that research will be conducted until June to determine what exactly the impact of immigration from the Eastern European countries has been and will be (with the lift of the restrictions, immigration is expected to rise). But I imagine this is really just her stalling in order to determine what the most politically beneficial move for her would be.
The German Right is claiming that immigration will have a negative impact because their Fatherland will be flooded with welfare bums or “benefit vacationers” while the Left is claiming the exact opposite, saying that immigration will boost the economy, citing the country’s reliance on foreign workers. I doubt very much that any “study” will change any of their minds.
Though conservatives worldwide tend to simply dislike the idea of social welfare in general and despise the idea of anyone taking advantage of such programs, let alone foreigners, the possibility of Romanians and Bulgarians abusing Germany’s social programs seems to be more of an excuse than the reason they are against immigration from those countries. It is rarely stated in public explicitly, but there seems to be strong undertones of xenophobia and, dare I say it, racism in the anti-immigration movement. The two countries have sizable Roma populations (if you’re not aware of the general attitude towards the Roma people in Europe, it’s a bit less than enthusiastic). You will be hard-pressed to hear anyone on either side explicitly say what the real reason is. Let’s face it: Germany doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to racial and cultural relations, and the last thing any German politician wants to do is come off as a racist.
Opponents to immigration from these countries just seem to have an aversion to the idea of foreigners coming in and taking advantage of them without any real basis for such a fear. Yes, it happens and it will continue to happen, but the negative impact of those abusing the system is a pebble in a lake compared to the benefits of far-reaching, generous social welfare. There will always be some leakage, but you shouldn’t cut off the nose to spite the face. The fact that this is an instinctual, baseless fear rather than a legitimate, rational concern is highlighted by the fact that these strong opinions are touted as fact with a lack of data. The only hard data I’ve come across says that 80% of Romanians and Bulgarians living in Germany are employed — though, to be fair, data can always be manipulated, but there isn’t any data at all saying that these immigrants are bad for Germany. There have been references to Germany’s rising population due to immigration, but even when it is referred to as a problem it is in the same breath as the problem of a decreasing population due to low birth/high death rates.
Germany (along with the other, more powerful countries) enjoys all the perks of being in the E.U. while still maintaining its dominance; these restrictions from the poorer countries are a perfect example. They also benefit from the cheap labor provided by workers from these countries (leave out “generous social welfare programs” and you got yourself a United States/Mexico immigration issue here). So they want to have their cake and eat it too. And I would say that when you are a country as powerful as Germany, that is exactly what you will do. It is possible, just like in America, that German conservative politicians are just paying lip service to this “keep ‘em out” idea to placate their constituents while ultimately realizing that they need the labor, not to mention the skilled workers and professionals they can poach from these countries. Understandably, neither side is trying to keep out the doctors and engineers.
I think it’s safe to say that Germany and its social programs will not be destroyed by an influx of foreigners from Eastern Europe. So if Chancellor Merkel decides to continue with the restrictions, it will be solely a political move. It is understandable that many Germans don’t want outsiders coming in and taking advantage. No one likes to be taken advantage of, but it’s really not going to affect their daily lives or their benefits in any way. If restrictions are imposed, it will assuredly affect more honest, hardworking immigrants — and in turn, Germany — than it will leeches. Show me something that says different and I’ll change my opinion, but hearsay is not good enough to stop people from benefiting from a partnership that your country takes advantage of anyway. But hey, it’s good to be on top I guess.